Roma can add to new stadium joy with a win against Inter Milan
"We look forward to building a stadium to showcase to the world." Once Roma posted James Pallotta's statement on Twitter, at the end of a tense night for Romanisti, champagne corks could be heard popping across the Eternal City. That announcement finally brought a happy end to a saga that has dragged on for five years and at several points in the last few weeks looked to be heading towards a messy final act, with a flurry of legal action and fan protests against a beleaguered city administration. Instead, after a night of talks, club and city came out of the Campidoglio and faced down the camera flashes with the beaming grins of a Hollywood couple announcing their impending nuptials.
Pallotta: "The next step on the journey is in front of us. First and foremost, I want to thank our fans: they are the best in the world." pic.twitter.com/1FlgUT5WGB- AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) February 24, 2017
"We've reached a deal with Roma," said Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, to a chorus of dajes, or "come ons" from the assembled crowd.
"This is a historic day, not just for Roma, who has made its dream of having a modern facility concrete, but also for the city," said Roma general manager Mauro Baldissoni, whose face could barely contain his grin.
It's been quite a week for the club. In the afternoon Roma had been draw with Lyon in the round of 16 in the Europa League following Thursday night's dreary and inconsequential 1-0 defeat to Villarreal at the Stadio Olimpico. Roma's reserves did enough to go through thanks to the hard work carried out in the 4-0 first-leg win in Spain. Meanwhile the first team has been hunkering down for Sunday night's massive clash at red-hot Internazionale.
Just a few days ago -- in a desperate attempt to make sure the stadium project wasn't definitively torpedoed by activists within the populist Five Star Movement city government -- Roma organised a trip to the dilapidated horse track where the stadium is to be built. In the absence of race events since being sold to the construction company that will build the new ground it has become a dumping ground and a haven for other vices.
Now, after a deal was struck that will see 70 percent of the site's proposed business park chopped, including three skyscrapers, and the project's overall square footage halved, Roma fans can rest easy. They have the political backing. And in Italy, once you have that you can more or less guarantee that a way around any obstacles will be found. Roma will have their new stadium, by hook or by crook.
Sunday's match signal's the start of another terrifically taut week for Roma. As if facing an Inter team that has won nine of their last 10 matches wasn't enough, Wednesday brings the away leg of the Rome Derby Coppa Italia semifinal against Lazio, after which third-placed Napoli come to town. Inter's one defeat in that run was away at Juventus, where in truth they were unlucky not to come away with a point, and Roma can expect an extremely tough match from a team that despite being eight points behind Roma in fifth has designs on Champions League football.
Just as well then that coach Luciano Spalletti was able to rest almost his entire first 11 on Thursday night, with only Kostas Manolas, Bruno Peres and Daniele De Rossi of the big guns starting against the Spaniards. Manolas -- a transfer target for Inter -- may miss the clash after being subbed at half-time with a muscle injury, but with Juan Jesus doing so well and and Federico Fazio now leading the defence, that's not the devastating news it would have once been.
Perhaps most importantly Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah come into the match fresh having skipped Thursday night's Euro-encounter. Dzeko earned his own rest with that wonderful hat trick at the ex-Madrigal a week ago. The pair have immediately slotted back into the rhythm that had them as Europe's leading strike partnership before the Egyptian had to leave for the Africa Nations Cup, and Salah will be a crucial asset on the break. His pace alone stops opposition defences from pushing too high up, and as a consequence that gives De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman more space to work in, as well as freeing up a marker from Peres on the right.
Juventus are on the horizon and guaranteed to be 10 points clear by the time Roma take the San Siro field thanks to their easy home fixture against Empoli. As such, Roma's attention should be on the team who follow them, chiefly Napoli, two points behind the Giallorossi and having only lost once (to Juve) since being suckere punched by Roma at the Stadio San Paolo in October.
A draw at Inter would guarantee that Rome stay second thanks to that win in Naples, and given the head-to-head with Napoli the following week is at the Olimpico, it wouldn't be the worst result in the world. A win over the much-loathed Milanese would, however, be the perfect way to celebrate what, despite coming off the pitch, might be the most important victory for Roma in the last 20 years.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley